This series is about wives and mums learning how to “share” life with their family, rather than contending with them. The concepts taught here apply to all people connecting with others, but they are crafted to address the challenge many women have, to avoid contending with their husband and family.
Sharing Instead of Contending
Contention comes from pride and is anchored in the notions of “rule” and “judgement”. When a woman contends with her family she is likely being moved by pride and by feelings of her right to rule and judge others.
Contending is adversarial in nature and puts two people at variance. That is why “sharing” is such a powerful way to neutralise the tendency to contend. When a wife and mother takes on the role of a counsellor to her family and “shares” life with them, she will be much less likely to contend with them.
It’s A Challenge
Changing behaviour is challenging. This is just as true for stopping contention. You will need God’s help to control your tongue. So ask for God’s help every time you find yourself in contention.
Learning new behaviour will take practice and commitment. Don’t be discouraged if you struggle. It is worse that you simply give up or don’t realise what you are doing. If you are conscious you are doing things wrong and struggling to change, that is a good sign.
To help you through this challenge I am giving you some tangible examples of communications which can lead to contention in families. I trust they help you change your own behaviour patterns.
Insult and Injury
What happens when a husband makes an off-hand remark about his wife’s family? Let’s assume he says that he thinks her brother is an idiot. And let’s assume that the wife feels quite stung by this personal remark about her own brother. She feels insulted and injured. Now what does she do?
A contentious woman would dive in and start a fight in defence of her brother. She might say, “You’ve never liked my brother. You’ve always looked down on my family. You’re just an opinionated pig!”
Or she might jump in with her interrogation, spoken with the sting of her hurt feelings. “What’s wrong with my brother? Who are you calling stupid? He could easily say the same thing about you, you know!”
In any of these responses the lines are drawn and husband and wife are on opposite sides of the line.
Stay On The Same Side
Rather than creating a dividing line between you both, the better strategy is to have both of you on the same side. Stay on side with your husband. Stay on the same side.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to agree with your husband. What it means is that you have to “share” with your husband. Share life with him. Be part of his journey, rather than being separate, judging his journey from a distance.
If a wife is stung by her husband’s criticism of her family she first needs to rule her own spirit. She needs to restrain her anger and reactions. She needs to be committed to the marriage, not just to her emotional sense of right and wrong.
An On-Side response could be to play it down. “Is my brother irritating you again?”
Alternatively she could simply investigate what her husband is dealing with, in order to find godly wisdom. “Has he done something to upset you again?” “Tell me what’s bothering you about him.”
Another approach is to be caring to the husband’s inner needs. “I’m sorry he bothers you like that. I’d love you both to get along better.” “Oh dear. You have enough on your plate at the moment without some frustration from my brother.”
Yet another approach is to find a solution, rather than make a reaction. “This seems to be an on-going issue for you. Is there anything we can do to improve things?” “My brother is actually quite a wonderful guy, but you two just never seem to hit if off. What if we talk to someone about this issue, to see if there’s a way to get past this hurdle?”
I have seen many Aussies successfully diffuse difficult situations, and so maybe you could look for ways to achieve that. When you feel aroused and at risk of reacting, first find God’s grace, then look for His wisdom to diffuse the tensions with your spouse.
Susan and I have used a light-hearted humour to diffuse tensions at times. She will look at me with exasperation and say, “You are the most difficult husband I have ever had!” And that’s true because I am the ONLY husband she has had. I may well respond with an equally teasing comment such as, “I have never had a wife who gets me as frustrated as you do!” And that’s true too, since she is the ONLY wife I have ever had.
Because we use this gag from time to time it is an easy way to express frustration, but not make an issue of it. We both recognise that we annoy each other at times, but we know that such is life. No matter who we married we would have the same challenges. So, we acknowledge them and let them pass.
Humour is tricky. Some people can make a happy moment out of anything, while others turn humour into an ordeal. If you have liberty to use humour it can be a simple way to diffuse tension.
For example, in a situation like the one described above, a wife could try this. Next time she sees an advertisement for a job in Siberia or Antarctica, she could stick the ad on a note that says, “Maybe you should recommend my brother for this job!”
Each time hubby is upset at the brother again, she could say, “I’ve kept that ad, just in case you want to recommend a job to my brother.”
In all relationships the bottom line is the relationship itself. Whatever the tensions may be, take care to protect the relationship. It’s all about sharing, staying on the same side, rather than putting a dividing line between you.
Contention puts you on separate sides. Sharing keeps you on the same side. So, do all you can to stay together, not on opposite sides.
You will not always get it right. When you get upset, react and contend with your children or husband, use the repair mechanism. The repair mechanism is to repent and apologise.
“I’m sorry honey. I did get upset and I shouldn’t have. Please forgive me.”
At the same time you may need to silently forgive them for upsetting or offending you. Ask God to forgive them, because you are putting off your upset feelings.
When you put right what you have done wrong it makes it easier for you to get it right next time.
And this also keeps the relationship in its rightful place, as the most important thing to protect. Your pride will have to lose out. Your control will have to lose out. Your sense of self-righteousness will have to lose out. But the relationship will win. And that’s fantastic.